Korea’s conservative government accelerates enactment of law aimed at gagging the press

Posted on : 2023-09-07 16:52 KST Modified on : 2023-09-07 16:52 KST
Controversy over an interview concerning the president has accelerated the government’s push to institute a “one strike” policy for “fake news”
Lee Dong-kwan, the new chairperson of the Korea Communications Commission, speaks with others attending a Cabinet meeting at the government complex in Seoul on the morning of Sept. 5. (Yonhap)
Lee Dong-kwan, the new chairperson of the Korea Communications Commission, speaks with others attending a Cabinet meeting at the government complex in Seoul on the morning of Sept. 5. (Yonhap)

Amid controversy over the alleged fabrication of an interview concerning Yoon Suk-yeol ahead of last year’s presidential election, the Korea Communications Commission announced plans for new legislation that would institute an “integrated review system” with a one-strike policy for “dissemination of malicious false information via broadcast communication networks, whether intentional or through gross negligence.”

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) also stated that it is looking into whether the content and process of the reporting by Newstapa violated the Act on the Promotion of Newspapers.

Relevant ministries are coming under fire for spearheading a push to “tame the media” after the presidential office slammed the interview in question, between Shin Hak-lim and Kim Man-bae, as a “mind-boggling case of political maneuvering the main culprit of the Daejang neighborhood case and a former chair of the National Union of Media Workers collaborated on in order to influence the presidential election.”

“The current response system, which is led by either the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC) or the Press Arbitration Commission (PAC), is helpless when it comes to fake news by new types of media, such as online press,” the KCC said, emphasizing that it will thoroughly implement legislative measures to urgently establish an emergency response system for “fake news.”

Through that, it is expressing an intent to impose a new unified review system that would either shutter or prevent broadcasting by outlets upon their first strike.

“We will continue to work closely with relevant ministries and the National Assembly to strengthen the management responsibilities of portal sites, social media, and video platform operators,” the KCC added.

The MCST also announced plans to take measures in response to the incident.

“In light of this incident, we will review and launch an institutional response and deterrence plan for problematic, systematic fake news that manipulates public opinion and undermines a healthy media environment and liberal democracy,” the ministry said.

“There is a provision in the Act on the Promotion of Newspapers that allows people to file appeals to suspend publication of certain media outlets or disqualify them as an official news outlet, and we are reviewing necessary measures,” a ministry official told the Hankyoreh over the phone.

The second subparagraph of Article 22(2) of the Act on the Promotion of Newspapers, states that a mayor or provincial governor can order a suspension of publication within six months or make an application for trial at court to revoke registration of a newspaper if its contents “seriously and repetitively violates the purpose or contents of publication.”

Newstapa is currently registered as an online newspaper.

Following a heated debate among the KCSC’s Broadcast Review Bureau members, those members affiliated with the ruling party decided to put Newstapa’s reportage on the agenda for urgent review on Tuesday.

However, it has been pointed out that Newstapa is not only not subject to broadcasting review, it is not subject to telecommunications review, as telecommunications review exists to review harmful and illegal information pursuant to the Act on Promotion of Information and Communication Network Utilization and Information Protection, which does not apply to reports by the press.

The only response that can be taken is for a complaint to be filed through the Press Arbitration Commission. In addition, the KCSC has decided to hold an urgent deliberation on Tuesday to review the appropriateness of a report by broadcaster MBC that quotes Shin Hak-lim’s interview of Kim Man-bae for Newstapa.

“The fact that the KCC, the MCST, and the KCSC are taking leading the charge to impose sanctions while the investigation has yet to come to a conclusion shows that this is nothing more than a pretense for the presidential office and the ruling party to gag the press,” commented Choi Jin-bong, a professor of media and communications at Sungkonghoe University. “They are hoping that this is intimidating enough to send media outlets critical of the government a message.”

Regarding the MCST’s review of Article 22 of the Newspaper Act, Lee Seung-sun, a professor of journalism at Chungnam National University, commented, “The court decides whether a newspaper’s registration can be revoked, and there are no cases where a court has deregistered a newspaper based on the content of its coverage. This can only be seen as an attempt to sway public opinion by expressing views that hearken back to the time before the abolishment of the Framework Act on Media.”

By Ahn Yeong-chun, staff reporter; Lee Jung-gook, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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